Without the D Word Coming Back to Haunt You
The “D” word you say? Why, whatever could that be? Dysfuntion? Well, of course, not. Dysfunction never shows up around the holidays! It especially never shows up if your mother-in-law is present. Mother-in-laws, after all, are experts in every field, including the field of warding off dysfunction around the holidays. Bless their dear, dear souls.
So, what, pray tell, which “D” word could you be referring to? I know what you’re thinking, and I’m actually not referring to the BIG D word either, because that, unfortunately, is unavoidable, just like taxes. And both of those things inevitably come back to haunt you, and at the most inconvenient times, to boot.
I am referring to, of course, the holiday dinner! Yes, it’s that time of year when the whole family, full of smiles of mirth, shows up at your door just positively glowing with holiday cheer! The TV is graciously indisposed, the remote controls have taken ill, the latops have been retired for much needed repose, and even the iPods are all nestled snuggly in their beds, dreaming of what iTunes will soon be put in their heads.
The Carpenters croon in the background, “Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays, because no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet, home!” At last, the whole gang is together again, beloved faces beaming, and bellies ready to eat!
But, let’s talk turkey here. If one wants to enjoy the turkey to its fullest, one must have a lovely sensory experience during the entire act of dining. So, I shall not be recommending great-great grandmother’s twice-removed secret for making such a tender bird that you will positively be the envy of all of your friends, because, alas, that grandmother does not have such a secret to spare, so I am afraid my pockets come up empty on this count.
What I will show you how to do today is to create a holiday table that is not only a conversation starter, but one that is whimsical, one that is a work of art in its own right, and one that reflects your own individual style.
This year, I grew so weary of seeing turkey serving platters with, you guessed it, a giant turkey depicted in watercolor on the platter. I do believe that our guests are absolutely of superior intelligence and grace, and they do not wish to be reminded through visual representation that it is indeed a turkey they are eating, and specifically, what that turkey might have looked like when it was alive and sporting beautiful plumage, and a face, for that matter. I also grew weary of woodland animal themed flatware. I don’t necessarily need to have a pheasant on the handle of my salad fork, and that goes for Mallards too. I do not require twin turkey salt and pepper shakers staring lifelessly across the table, as everyone tries to salt and pepper their food as inconspicuously as possible.
So, I have a new holiday approach for my table, and I have thrown out all of the rules. I have simply written a “Dear John” letter to traditional holiday decorating and told this bland and predictable gentleman, who is holiday decorating, that I was no longer in need of his services. And, I have taken up with a very unpredictable, whimsical, and creative decorating style who suits my tastes perfectly.
1. The Table Cloth
It all starts with a table cloth as the foundation of any good meal. Just like undergarments enhance a woman’s beauty, and hide flaws that might otherwise be seen, a good table cloth has the same function. Though not directly noticeable, it allows the rest of the table to shine.
I have really gone out on a limb with the table cloth I have chosen this year. And, I have chosen it specifically because it’s a table cloth with a conscience. There is an online company named Mayan Traditions that sells fair trade Guatemalan textiles. I have purchased several table cloths from them in the past and have been very pleased with the quality of their products, which are top notch. Moreover, by purchasing their products, you are helping support Guatemalan families who may otherwise have few, if any, real options for employment. In other words, you can be fashionable, and have a big heart too. We must also not forget that the first settlers owe their winter survival to the Native Americans who helped prevent them from going hungry, and a table cloth made by people native to the Americas is a way to pay them honor during this holiday season.
One example of a Mayan Traditions table cloth
2. The Flatware
Now, I know that even though modern society has become quite conservative in how many pieces of flatware are placed on the table, there will always be a Nellie-Know-It-All at everyone’s dinner table who is quick and ungraciously ready to point out the lack of proper flatware and improperly folded napkins. In her day, each napkin was laboriously ironed for 5 hours, and that iron was heated over a large indoor hearth fire. You’ll be able to recognize this Nellie-Know-It-All by her spectacles, which she purchased in 1860, and by the unrelenting expression on her face that most of us could only achieve by sucking on two sour lemons, and for 5 hours, at that. The only time Nellie-Know-It-All manages a smile is when she is correcting someone else’s lack of etiquette, and even then, her smile is more of a grimace. Because, the poor Nellie-Know-It-All also banned real smiling from her life in 1860.
But, in 2009, we do not fall into the habit of placing 12 different pieces of flat ware service next to each plate. Not only do we not have the table space, we don’t have the storage space, and most of us would be hard-pressed to find anyone alive who would actually *know* how to place so many flat ware pieces. Then, there are our unfortunate guests, who looking at the flat ware might decide that tonight is the night we have a conspiracy to end their lives, and we will likely do it by poking holes in them with all of those strange looking forks we have set out. After they realized we have not conspired to end their lives, then they will certainly conspire never to speak to us again. So, should you have a Nellie-Know-It-All at your table who balks at the fact that you don’t have the same flat ware as she used during the winter of 1860, you may just smile knowingly at her and say, “Oh, 1860? What a charming year! Why that would make you at least 149 years old! My what a simply divine treat to have a relic from the past dining with us tonight!” Then graciously thank Know-It-All Nellie for, out of all the houses she could have dined at, being 149 years old and all, you have been graced with the prescence of having her at your house. Indeed, what a treat! This is guaranteed to keep Madame Nellie occupied with the slow and tedious mastication of turkey for the rest of event. In correct society, it’s one hundred mastications for each bite, you know.
Onward to the topic of flat ware. I am no “Miss Manners”, nor am I attempting to be. Having gotten that out in the open, I prefer a 5-piece place setting, preferably rendered in stainless steel, and dishwasher safe. This place setting from Horchow has a lovely lion motif. The lion is rendered in the style of Renaissance Italian carvings, that are usually seen widely depicted in fountains and garden statues. I like the lion because it is versitile, and classic, and could be used year-round for any formal dinner. If you don’t like a lion motif, the Horchow website has all kinds of flatware rendered in stainless steel and some in other materials.
The designs are quite creative, ranging from the minimalist to the ornate… www.horchow.com
3. The Placemats
Now here is where I am really going to mix things up. The rest of the table is going to appear as if it were put in a ‘blender’, only this blender helps you achieve art, rather than puree. Here is the approach we are going to use. We are going to use pairs of placements, and each pair will have a radically different style than the other. For instance, you could choose two English floral, two paisley, two Japanese cherry blossom, two Indian textile inspired, two minimalist design, two striped, two dotted. The possibilities are endless. But, here is the pitfall you must watch out for. You may choose radically different designs, but you must ensure that the colors you choose compliment each other AND the tablecloth. So, this will require some real creativity and problem-solving on your part. And if you are a creative, problem-solver, you are going to have an absolute ball designing this table.
I went to Pier 1 and was able to find different placemats, in different styles, and all in colors that complimented the table cloth that I chose. Here are some examples of what Pier 1 has to offer:
The Diamond Placemat
Pier1.com – $3.96
The Sunset Placemat
Pier1.com – $3.96
The Red and Brown reversible placemat
Pier1.com – $6
The Green and Brown Reversible placemat
Pier1.com – $6
The Embroidered Green and Brown placemat
Pier1.com – $2.88
Cherry Blossom Placemat
Pier1.com – $4.95
Pier1.com – $4
Yes, these placemats are VERY different in style, but the colors they are rendered in do not clash with the other placemats or with the tablecloth. Of course, your idea of clashing, and my idea of clashing may be completely different, and that’s cool. Differences make the world go ’round. My goal is to put the concept out there and have you alter it to your own individual taste and style. The possibilities for an interesting holiday table are literally endless, and I am hoping you will be able to take these concepts and not only create a holiday table to be remembered, but also have a ball creating your theme.
4. The Napkins and Napkin Rings
Because we have chosen interesting colors and patterns for the tablecloth and placemats, I am going to recommend using a cloth napkin, in ONE solid color. I used reds, oranges, greens, and browns for the tablecloth and placemats, so I would choose a chocolate colored napkin. The chocolate color is very rich and inviting, but it also blends with the setting. But, the chocolate colored napkin is also a girl’s best friend because it isn’t difficult to clean. Lipstick stains? Too much gravy? Red wine? This napkin can handle them all with grace and aplomb.
The Beloved Chocolate Napkin
(But, please don’t eat it. It’s a napkin, after all).
Pier1.com – $2
Now we’re back to being bold. When selecting napkin rings, this is the time to get creative again and start pairing in two’s. We’re going to follow the same concept with the napkin rings as we did with the placemats. We’re going to select pairs of napkin rings that follow a similar color scheme but can be rendered in radically different styles. Now we’re venturing into very tricky territory because we have to not only consider the tablecloth and placemats, we also have to consider the flatware we have selected. Using the example I have started, I am going to stick to earth tones for the napkin rings. Here are my favorites, which I also found at Pier 1:
Oops! I already broke my ‘earth-tone’ rule. Sorry, ladies!!
Pier1.com – $3.95
But then I took my rule back…
Pier1.com – $3.16
(to pull together stainless steel and beads)
Pier1.com – $2.95
(just to prove I do remember it’s the holiday season!)
Pier1.com – $2.18
(to symbolize “peace on Earth and goodwill toward men”)
Pier1.com – $2.95
5. The Plates
And just when you thought I had broken every fashion rule possible, and you were ready to 411 the fashion police, I have decided to choose a more traditional plate motif. I absolutely love what the Anthropologie website has to offer this season. Here, I am going to encourage you to choose the same plate. Yes, the same plate, and 10 of them at that, or 20 of them, if you can fit 20 guests at your table. If you can do that, you are a better Hostess than me!! I tip my bonnet to you, ever so demurely.
So, let’s sum up what we have looked at so far. We have a Guatemalan tablecloth topped with placemats with clashing patterns, but that are in the same color family. And we have our best friend the chocolate napkin that allows unconventional napkin rings to take the limelight. We just love the humility and self-sacrifice of our friend the chocolate napkin. She is absolutely ‘the wind beneath our wings’. And she will possibly even politely hide the discarded turkey wing of one of our guests.
But, now, we must usher in the real star of our dinner, the plates. So, now I am going to unveil a plates that I would choose to tie this look together, and to show our guests that, yes, indeed, there is a method behind the madness. They are about to experience a holiday meal that is a high art form. So, let’s choose an absolutely conventional plate. If you have been paying attention to the article, you’ll see that this last sentence was tongue in cheek. Of course we won’t choose a conventional plate! Why, that would defeat our entire purpose. And who gives a hoot what anyone thinks– not the wise, old owl, I dare say!
Anthropologie.com – $24
I have chosen the ultimate in whimsy, a lovely, large-eyed owl with the phrase “C’est Chouette” hovering just above her head. For those who are not francophiles, “C’est Chouette” is slang which means “That’s cool!”. Surely, since you have just created a dinner table that no one else on the planet has thought of, you might as well have the wise, old owl on your side, announcing that everything is very cool. Yes, even she agrees that you are the most chic Hostess on the block.
But, your guests don’t have to know that the owl is also dishwasher and microwave safe. What a gal!
6. The Glasses
Assuming that you are serving wine, I am not going to ask you to break a centuries old tradition by pouring wine into the vintage Coca-Cola glasses that McDonald’s was giving away for free a couple of months ago. I am hard to offend, but dare I say that if someone were to ruin this table by placing awfully colored glasses that even McDonald’s *had* to give away for free, I would stand offended.
So please, use red wine glasses for red wine, and white wine glasses for white wine, and martini glasses for martinis, in case your family is the kind to bring up untoward events of the past. In this case, having a stiff drink handy would be a matter of sheer survival.
In summary, go out on a limb with our wise, old owl this year, and throw out the turkey. That is, throw out the turkey theme. But, you may also literally throw out the turkey in case an ex-boyfriend should choose to darken your doorstep this holiday season.
I wish you and yours a very lovely and prosperous holiday season!